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I sound like a candyass admitting this, but some of the most relaxing nights of my life have been those spent in hotels on the night before I head into the wild.

The hotels can’t be just anywhere. Instead, they have to be in towns that are synonymous with the tracts of wilderness that extend from their borders. To use the United States as an example, I’m thinking of places like Gardiner, Montana; Ketchikan, Alaska; Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan; Bangor, Maine. These are the frontier towns of today, the modern equivalent to the old Army posts where vagabonds and drifters got geared up before vanishing into the unknown territories to discover a mountain pass or strike it rich or get scalped by Indians or mauled by bears.

These hotels are the kinds of places where it’s often necessary for the management to post signs asking guests not to wash muddy clothes in the bathtub, or not to process game meat on the guest tables, or not to disassemble snowmachines or boat engines in the parking lot. I consider such signs to be like welcome signs rather than being restrictive, because they demonstrate the fact that the management at least understands that such behavior might be necessary. I sleep so well in these hotels because I have to; in the morning, I know I’ll be grabbing my pack and heading into some wild place that promises to be either life-alteringly awful or life-alteringly fantastic. (I know, “life-alteringly is not actually a word, but if feels like one.)  If I had to compare these night to something, I’d say they are similar to sucking in a big breath of air before diving down toward a deep and dangerous place in the sea.